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Cork deaf enterprises sign up for change

Thursday, 5th February, 2015 12:00am

What do global giant IKEA and local furniture upcylcer Cork Deaf Enterprises have in common? Apart from selling furniture, they are both part of the SMILE Resource Exchange, whose aim is to link companies across Ireland that can share by-products, rather than send them to landfill.

The new initiative aims to help companies help each other. One of the standard bearers for this could be the Cork Deaf Enterprises which, largely employing deaf people who can find it hard to get employment, upcycle and repair old furniture and save it from the landfill. Cork Deaf Enterprises is one of over 1,000 members nationwide.

Cork Deaf Enterprises is something of an institution. Manager Liam McGrath explains how they began.

"Cork Deaf Enterprises was founded back in 1987/1988. One of the main founders was Father Bill Clark, chaplain to the deaf in Cork. He was aware of the high rates of unemployment among deaf people. He and some of his friends who were in business started off a furniture restoration business, initially with one trainer and one trainee. 12 people now work for the business, 10 of whom are deaf and two who are not.

After initially renting a premises, they then moved to their current home on the Ballinlough Road, where they remain. Training became FÁS accredited, even though the training was done at Cork Deaf Enterprises.

"25 years years down the road, we are still here! Our main business is furniture restoration, French polishing and making some small furniture pieces. We would be fairly well-known for a high quality finish when restoring furniture," he says.

They restore three piece suites, armchairs and kitchen chairs; as well as doing upholstery work for bars, hotels, nursing homes, schools and play schools. Cork Deaf Enterprises also provide a recovery service for boat and caravan seating, as well as car and motorbike seats. They also do repairs for all types of furniture and they provide free estimates.

Their showroom on the Ballinlough Road has a selection of restored and reupholstered furniture. One of the problems with high quality restoration is that there is "a lot of cheap furniture out there," Liam explains. "People will find they won't have the same quality," he adds.

Liam says that they recently did a suite for a woman in Dublin. She got the suite restored for sentimental reasons. Her sister had gotten work done by them and she liked it, so they gained another customer.

Liam says he is not an expert but thinks that opportunities for deaf people are probably a bit better now than when the charity was founded. Education opportunities are better now, he thinks. "Some people are working with us long-term, some for 20 years or so.

"A lot of our business would be repeat business. People come back to us every few years but we get a lot of referrals."

SMILE Resource Exchange links up Irish businesses to make financial savings while reducing waste destined for landfill and developing new business opportunities.

"A couple of years ago, they contacted us knowing that we are in the business we are in. To a certain extent, we are recycling furniture. We would have some offcuts of cloth that other business might use."

Some fabric companies have passed on material to them, especially as they are a charity, Liam says. Cork Deaf Enterprises continue to fundraise as much as they can.

Late last year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny launched SMILE Resource Exchange, saying: "SMILE provides a great free service to businesses and allows them to network with other companies to find opportunities of mutual benefit and help the environment. I hope more Irish companies will be able to find new efficiencies and make new connections through the SMILE network."

In October 2013, SMILE welcomed its 1000th member and through its national launch, aims to attract and foster new business relationships on a wider scale throughout the country.

"The growth of SMILE from a small local project over the last three years illustrates a conscious move in Irish business towards greater resource efficiency," said SMILE Project Manager, Michelle Green. "We're looking forward to welcoming additional members from County Meath through our new website www.smileexchange.ie, while offering technical support and connecting more businesses around Ireland.

"No matter what size company you have, this is an opportunity to engage with SMILE Resource Exchange and its members. We are part of an emerging trend across Europe to approach waste in new and innovative ways, connecting companies while sharing skills and experience, as well as materials. SMILE will be working with the industrial symbiosis programmes across the members states through the European Industrial Symbiosis Association (EUR-ISA)."

Recently, SMILE has welcomed multinationals such as IKEA to its membership and has piloted bespoke exchanges between these and smaller Irish companies under their corporate social responsibility policies. SMILE's new national platform hopes to develop further similar relationships and encourage greater symbiosis between Irish businesses of all sizes.

For more info on Cork Deaf Enterprises, see  ww.deafenterprises.ie/index.html.

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